ERATH — As the town of Erath blocked off South Broadway Street and American flags waved in the breeze, dozens of people from around Acadiana lined the road for what has long been a highly-anticipated Fourth of July tradition.
That would be the annual water fight, in which fire departments from the region — Delcambre, Henry, LeBlanc and Erath — battle it out with their fire hoses in the middle of the street.
The Fourth of July patriotic spirit was in the air as peopled decked out in American flag regalia, swim suits and shirts announcing the celebration’s 80th year watched this year’s battle unfold.
Adam Broussard cheered on his hometown heroes while sporting an attention-getting beard dyed red, white and blue and a pair of star-spangled sunglasses.
“The water fights are tradition,” Broussard said. “We’ve been doing it for so long here in Erath and no one else does it like us.”
The water fight began in 1942 as a training exercise for local fire departments and is one of the most popular events held at Erath’s five-day Fourth of July celebration.
The fire deparments square off against each other in teams of six. Five firefighters control the hose while the sixth gives them direction because the other firefighters can’t see through the opposing team’s stream of water.
Each team is graded on if they hit the other team above the waist, how hard the water hits and how long the deluge of water can be held in place, all while being blasted by the opposing team.
“I love it,” said Tristin Bouillion, Erath’s fire chief. “We get to interact with the public. Instead of seeing tragedy all the time, they get to see us having fun.”
At the sound of a fire truck’s horn, two of the teams unleashed a deluge of water on each other. The crowds erupted with cheers every time a direct hit landed or the streams clashed in mid air and sprayed them with a refreshing mist that cut through the summer heat.
Meanwhile, as the firefighters waged their watery war, barefoot children splashed and played in the puddles and streams made in each battle’s wake.
Originally, the winning fire department was just given a concret-filled boot filled with an axe handle sticking out of it, but in 2005 the competition also added a tin cup with plates denoting each year’s winner as their pair of trophies to hold onto until next year.
LeBlanc had been holding a five year streak from 2010-2014, but Erath ended it in 2015.
After six grueling, wet rounds, the finals came down to Delcambre’s team versus LeBlanc’s. Delcambre had lost to LeBlanc in the first round and had fought its way back into the finals, but the LeBlanc Fire Department won it in the end and took back their title as the water fight winners.
“This is great!” shouted T.J. Hebert over the roar of the duelling fire hoses. “Erath’s going to have the cleanest streets in Vermilion Parish!”
Robert Vincent, president of the Erath Fourth of July Celebration, said the festivities were a big success this year.
“This year’s Fourth of July Celebration has been outstanding,” Vincent said. “This has probably been one of the best years so far.”
Vincent also said the this year’s fireworks display was the biggest the town has ever put on and twice as big as the previous year’s.
As to why Erath loves the Fourth of July so much, Chief Bouillion seemed to echo the thoughts of everyone in attendance.
“Since its founding, the town of Erath has been a very patriotic town,” said Bouillion. “It’s citizens, too. Even on a normal day, almost every house has an American flag. We celebrate all year.”